A horse being trained

How was it for me?

By Guest contributor 23 September 2014

One of our senior consultants, James Noble, recently described the process of helping TheHorseCourse to develop a theory of change. Here, founder of the equine-assisted behaviour programme, Harriet Laurie, shares her side of the story.

The process of building our theory of change with NPC was a bit like one of those TV home makeover shows where it all starts out as a hideous mess, and then the experts come in and before you know it the place looks clean, attractive and rational.

From the start of TheHorseCourse project four years ago, when I led two horses into HMP Portland to try out a new approach, I have been an obsessive data-gatherer, wanting to test and challenge my ideas. (Frankly, I found it hard to believe that they could be good enough!).

As the project developed, it became apparent that not only did the horse-stuff work, it seemed to make really big important changes in people who were pretty much written off—the so-called “difficult to reach” high-risk offenders.

I have been very lucky in that several top-class academics have taken an interest in the project and written TheHorseCourse up in various papers. However, each study has focused on a specific set of data; there was no one document to draw it all together.

NPC started the theory of change work by asking me to draw a diagram of how the course works, step by step. That was fun and interesting, making me think about which elements are important and which might not matter. It helped that by this time I had trained a number of people to replicate the intervention with their own horses, so I had seen various versions of approximation versus replication, and could learn from that.

Once we had finalised this part, James wanted to test each element against existing theories drawn from criminology, psychology, learning theory and neuroscience… AND double check our own data AND look back at the specific studies on TheHorseCourse. Yikes, it seemed like a daunting task to bring it all into one document! Pretty soon though, it was all set out in sensible tables. Finally, he went through and assessed it all, step by step and wrote up the Contribution Analysis, even checking the results against specific standards like NOMS and NESTA.

Just as the home-owners on those TV shows come in all shiny eyed, I feel very much the same way— surprised and proud and pleased by the results.

For the organisation and for the horsemanship professionals we have trained (currently 10 fully qualified and seven in progress), it is more about sustainability. This document should provide the evidence required to command statutory commissioning and therefore set them up to earn a reasonable living in their own regions doing a difficult and important job.